05 August 2006

Another stab in the back

Harper's has a good article on one of my recurring subjects, the dolchstoßlegende in history and contemporary American political rhetoric. It traces the history in some detail, and then argues that its power in American politics is coming to an end because of a failure of engagement by Americans in the fortunes of war.
Who could possibly believe in a plot to lose this war? No one cares that much about it. We have, instead, reached a crossroads where the overwhelming right-wing desire to dissolve much of the old social compact that held together the modern nation-state is irreconcilably at odds with any attempt to conduct such a grand, heroic experiment as implanting democracy in the Middle East. Without mass participation, Iraq cannot be passed off as an heroic endeavor, no matter how much Mr. Bush’s rhetoric tries to make it one, and without a hero there can be no great betrayer, no skulking villain.
I'm not convinced of that last point. To my eyes, the heroic side of the equation is actually less important than the villainous side. And since we do, in fact, face some very real and horrific villains in jihadist terrorists, I think that it will be easy for Americans to exaggerate their importance and link them to other things.

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